As local companies start to recruit new hires, the economy is slowly moving forward. Women who are getting ready to return to the work force have good reason to feel optimistic about their business ventures.

Melissa Morris Petrafesa, staffing manager at The McIntyre Group, said she has been getting calls lately from clients looking for people to work in administrative, creative, customer service and sales positions.

"The consulting business is also coming back," Petrafesa said. "It's really beginning to flourish."

Petrafesa, along with three other female professionals, shared their business-related experiences at the Women's Business Bazaar last Thursday.

Sponsored by the Junior Women's Club of Fairfield and the Women's Business Development Center (WBDC), the second annual networking and information session for women included a panel discussion called "Are You Prepared?"

Moderated by WBDC's President and Chief Executive Officer Fran Pastore, topics included finding work that you enjoy, getting one's financial life in order, making connections through social media outlets and how to utilize available resources to find a job or start a new business.

Acknowledging the difficulty many women have in asking for help, Pastore urged those in attendance to "ask, and you shall receive."

"People want to help each other," Pastore said.

She said that women who are re-entering the job force need to find a mentor to support them through this time of transition.

"People don't really want to expose themselves but if you could develop trust with someone and discuss what you want with them, then your ideas will really take root and grow," Pastore said.

Kathy Caprino, founder and president of Ellia Communications, and author of Breakdown, Breakthrough: A Professional Women's Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, said that women often don't know what they want to do and how they want to do it.

Using herself as an example, Caprino said that although she loves to sing, and has worked professionally as a performer, at this time in her life she prefers to sing as a hobby.

Caprino, a member of the panel, also advised women to spend time on the job with someone who is doing the kind of work they might enjoy doing. "Live it. Try it on for more than a few hours," Caprino instructed. "Also, listen very hard to what people are saying about this job."

One way to find people to talk to about their work is online. Amy DeLardi, founder and creative director of Infinite Web Designs, addressed the importance of using digital social media, especially LinkedIn.

In joining LinkedIn, people upload their resume on the site and then connect with former co-workers, friends and family to build a large networking circle. She noted that LinkedIn is "the No. 1 most used resource for recruiters and employers."

"It's viral and, done right, could really help you," DeLardi said.

However, she also cautioned about maintaining strict privacy settings on Facebook and to never post anything online on any site about personal or professional information related to a job search. Employers -- along with fellow job seekers -- regularly comb social media sites for leads and background information.

Saying that her work with clients often involves "reputation management," DeLardi recommends that people do not have any language or photos online that they would not want to be seen on the front page of the New York Daily News.

Christina Haithwaite, a Fairfield resident, enjoyed listening to the professionals talk about different aspects of work. "They had a lot of information to share," Haithwaite said.

She especially learned a great deal as Susan Cozzi, a financial coach at the Women's Business Development Center, addressed the need to set financial goals, use a budget and keep track of one's spending.

"She gave us a roadmap, which was very helpful," Haithwaite said.

Maggie Sherman said that she attended Thursday's event to explore networking opportunities. Although she is presently unemployed, Sherman is looking for work in sales, business development and meeting planning. "I wanted to educate myself about women in the workforce, too," Sherman noted.

Local consultants providing services of interest to women offered complimentary consultations and handouts before and after the formal panel discussion.

Connie Cusick, of Fairfield, recently launched two separate businesses, as a business coach and interior stylist. "I have to create," she explained.

Justin Shay, a massage therapist, offered chair massages.

Jennifer Hinkle, a member of the Junior Women's Club of Fairfield, and chairperson of the Women's Business Bazaar, was pleased with this year's program.

She said that the charitable organization wanted to do something for Fairfield women because "all year long we reach out and serve the needs of communities all around us."

"Fran Pastore and the Women's Business Development Center did such a great job last year," Hinkle said. "We appreciate their assistance so much. There are a lot of talented women in Fairfield and I know they benefitted from the information we provided."